The Invention of China


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Bill Hayton

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"[A] smart take on modern Chinese nationalism" (Foreign Policy). Bill Hayton tells the story of how ‘China’ came to think of itself as China—​and what it means for our world today

In this compelling and highly-readable account, Hayton shows how China’s present-day geopolitical problems—the fates of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea—were born in the struggle to create a modern nation-state. He brings alive the fevered debates of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when reformers and revolutionaries adopted foreign ideas to “invent’ a new vision of China.

Ranging across history, nationhood, language, and territory, Hayton shows how a few radicals, often living in exile, adopted European beliefs about race and nation to rethink China’s past and create a new future. He weaves together political and personal stories to show how Chinese nationalism emerged from the connections between east and west. These ideas continue to motivate and direct the country’s policies into the twenty first century. By asserting a particular version of the past Chinese governments have bolstered their claims to a vast territory stretching from the Pacific to Central Asia.

Bill Hayton is an associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House and a journalist with BBC World News. He is the author of The South China Sea and Vietnam.

‘China is never out of the news, but we need to stop and think why our conventional wisdom about the country may need rethinking.  Whether it's the name of the country itself, or the maps that underpin its territorial claims, Hayton is a sure, informed and often witty guide to understanding how this major state came to imagine itself.’—Rana Mitter, author of China's Good War

Immensely readable … As China becomes increasingly nationalistic and aggressive, how Party leaders view their national identity and destiny grows ever more critical. This is a valuable porthole into that important subject.’ —Orville Schell, author of Wealth and Power 

‘A remarkable tour de force. This prodigious, highly readable book enhances our understanding of the origins and possible future of China’s ethnic conflicts, territorial disputes, and great power aspirations.’ —Suisheng Zhao, Professor of International Studies, University of Denver

“Engaging . . . Historians, poets, film-makers inside and outside China have built, demolished and rebuilt a multidimensional country/culture object that is more shaped by than shaping the aspirations and anxieties of humanity."—Pamela Kyle Crossley, author of  The Wobbling Pivot, China since 1800

‘Hayton’s work challenges readers to remember that ideas defining “China” today are no more exceptional than those underpinning any state or nation. Assertions about rising from humiliation and immutable positions existing “since ancient times” are in fact creations of an ongoing, modernist state-building project.’—Ja Ian Chong, Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore

“[A]  smart take on modern Chinese nationalism.”—Foreign Policy

“A very readable book that will educate the general reader and provide experienced sinologists with a bevy of insights and fresh perspectives on a growing military and economic power.”—Walter Clemens, New York Journal of Books

“This captivating volume by Hayton (Chatham House and BBC World News) seeks to illustrate how China’s reworking of the past not only helped to justify its right to rule a century ago, but also motivates its policies today. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.”—S. K. Ma, Choice
ISBN: 9780300264807
Publication Date: May 31, 2022
320 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
24 b/w illus. + 2 maps
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